LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com)  —  In the end, the most criticized player, one who her fellow housemates even named “The Snake,” ended up being named the winner of “Big Brother” season 18 Wednesday evening.

Paul, Nicole and James made the final three. But by a vote of 5-4 between the top two finalists, Nicole and Paul, Nicole Franzel won the top prize of $500,000.

This season there was a showmance (James & Natalie),  a romance (Nicole & Corey) and a bromance (Paul & Victor). Three of those six made it to final three, proving in the “Big Brother” house, it’s good to have an ally.

In fact, if Paul Abrahamian, the 23-year-old clothing designer from Tarzana, had $1 for every time he uttered the word “friendship,” he might have won half a million without making it to the end. His social game — trying to make everyone his best friend when he wasn’t being in his own words “loud and crazy”  — ended up being effective but Nicole’s play of openly lying to people and then smiling about it turned out to be the winning ticket.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

The 5-4 jury vote was one of the closest in recent memory. Nicole got votes from possible future boyfriend Corey, Natalie, Paulie, Zakiyah and Da’Vonne. Paul got votes from James, “my boy Victor,” Michelle and Bridgette.

Paul, heavily favored when he made it to the final two, won $50,000 for coming in second.

Before the season began 99 days ago, it was revealed the season would include four returning players (James, Nicole, Da’Vvonne and Frank) as well as the siblings of two former popular players (Paulie whose actor/model brother Cody was runner-up in season 16) and Tiffany, whose sister Vanessa, a pro poker player, came in third in season 17.

Nicole, the 23-year-old ER nurse from Ubly, Mich., walked into the house vowing not to get caught up in another showmance as she did on season 16 with Hayden. It’s not exactly clear when they broke up, but she entered this season saying she was very single and this time ready to concentrate on the game.

So much for concentration. This go-round, she spent an inordinate amount of her summer making goo-goo eyes at Corey Brooks, the 25-year-old baseball coach from Dallas, and almost from Day One. “He’s so handsome” was a typical refrain. For most of the summer, in their dynamic partnership, he was the brawn and she was the brains, and he was the bad cop and she played the good cop. (Until Michelle called her out for being the mastermind. Da’Vonne called her “the puppet-master.”)

A show superfan since the age of 8, Nicole remained popular with viewers but also gained a rather vocal following on social media who criticized her every move. She was heavily criticized online for playing up to the men and not being loyal to her female cohorts. She described herself in her CBS bio as “classy, flirty and adventurous.”

Paul Abrahamian of the CBS series BIG BROTHER, scheduled to air on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Paul Abrahamian: (credit: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved)

Of course, there is a name for people who stay loyal in the “Big Brother” house: Loser.

The game is known for backstabbing, and this season didn’t disappoint. One of the best in years pretty much brought yelling, mixed loyalties, surprise twists and turns  and broken alliances to new levels. Nicole made deals, along with Corey, to go “final four” with James and Natalie — and behind their backs — literally hours later, then made a deal with Victor and Paul for the same thing. Who to back stab next?

Has there been a season with more crying, yelling or fighting in recent memory? Not to mention the normally placid jury house where eight of the nine jury members hang out in an undisclosed location as they await finale night? Fans will likely not soon forget the face-to-face, nose-to-nose screaming match between Paulie and Da’vonne.

In a stunning move, Corey and Nicole evicted Victor literally days after promising him they would work with him until the end. Promises, promises. Victor was stunned by yet another blind side. In most of those instances, Nicole used well her flirty and adventurous side, and crocodile tears when necessary, to mostly keep blood off her hands.

This season, Victor Arroyo was evicted an unprecedented three times and rallied back on two occasions to get back into the house. Popular (and usually shirtless) the Orlando-Bloom-like fitness trainer and gym manager via Puerto Rico and Slidell, La., was an almost immediate fan favorite. No surprise, he won $25,000 this season as “America’s Favorite Houseguest.”

Post win, Nicole told CBS2’s Entertainment Reporter Suzanne Marques she didn’t think she was going to win.

“I didn’t think that it was going to be me,” she said, acknowledging that in season 16 she was probably a little too nice to win.

“I think the fact [this time] I didn’t trust so many people really helped me,” ehs said. “Emotions get in the way in this game, and I didn’t play emotionally at all.”

It was the first time in “BB” history that a woman beat a man when a man competed against a woman in the final two.

The house will barely get a chance to air out before a new group moves in.

Starting Sept. 28, an almost brand new cast moves in for “Big Brother: Over the Top,” a version of the game that will only be seen on CBS All Access. Subscribers get the chance to pick either Jozea (the LA-based celebrity make-up artist and an early departee from Season 18) or Jason (the supermarket cashier who departed season 17 barely before the door closed.)

The winner of “Over the Top” will take home $250,000.

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